Oneida County nurtured great athletes and great sports. The residents of Oneida County were a sporting breed well before the dawn of the 20th century. Sports were enjoyed soon after pioneers from New England pushed into the area more than 200 years ago and interest intensified in the days preceding the Civil War.
Team sports did not really begin to develop until the middle of the 19th century. Before that, horse racing...trotting, more than anything else, by most accounts...was a major recreation.
The invention of the chain and sprocket and the pneumatic tire resulted in the bicycle replacing the old velocipede as a mode of travel. It is generally acknowledged that Lawson’s bicylette of 1879 was the first design for a bicycle with a chain drive to the back wheel. The front wheel of the first bicycle was forty inches in diameter and the back wheel twenty-four. Gradually the disparity between the wheels was lessened.
The only form of cycling suitable for women in the 1880s was the tricycle but this presented problems for the ladies. Their dresses were constantly riding over their knees, each alternate stroke lifting them higher. Then a few bicycles with dropped frames appeared on the market and by the middle of the 90s, women began to ride them. The “Saturday Globe” in 1895 wrote: “Almost every day parties of young women on bicycles can be met on Utica’s streets and that they enjoy it is evident from their beaming looks and happy smiles. The question of a becoming dress is a serious one. So what, they ask, shall we do? Shall it be bloomers or what? A reporter asked the opinion of this matter from a prominent cycling woman in Utica and was answered thus: ‘Bloomers, I can see no objection to bloomers on any ground save that of their ugliness; they are simply hideous and yet one can’t wear skirts without the danger of becoming all tangled up and getting severely hurt.’ Knickerbockers were suggested as a possible solution and the young woman replied, ‘Well, knickerbockers might be better. In fact I’ll tell you something if you’ll promise not to tell. Some girls are thinking of knickerbockers. There’s nothing so dreadful in them when you get used to it; it’s just the idea. I have just come from New York and there I saw dozens of women in bloomers and a few in knickerbockers. I am bound to say, however, that the latter class was much more interesting.’ The reporter thought he would find them most interesting too.”
The new asphalt pavement on Rutger street, the first such in Utica, was the favorite spot for bicycling. Lucy Clark, in “Town Topics”, November 1931 wrote: “On Sundays it was the mecca of bicyclists from all parts of the city and suburbs. Oh, the ladies in shortwaists, sailor hats and short skirts — ‘short’ meant at the shoetops, in those days and, a few daring ones in bloomers. The men in caps, blouses and odd, skimpy knickers. What a picturesque pageant they made, pedaling past those dignified houses, from which an occasional horrified occupant peeped out the parlor window, bewailing modern contraptions. But youth is ever indifferent to the pangs caused by the passing of old time ways, and the boys and girls of Rutger street’s best families were mingled in that gay wheeling throng many a smart debutante looking very sweet ‘upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.’
Albert J. Seaton conducted a bicycle academy in the old armory on Bleecker street in 1895 and he was enjoying such popularity that Welch Brothers built a bicycle rink on a vacant lot on Oneida Square, just south of Pegg’s Tavern. It was a frame building 144 feet deep, two stories in height. with towers on either end. The bicycle rink was in the rear, 76 by 140 feet in dimensions. There were platforms at the side upon which spectators could sit. The rink opened on June 19, 1895. The Academy was open daily and each evening as well. The rates were: Admission without riding, 10 cents; admission for people having their own wheels to ride, 20 cents; admission and wheel for one hour, without instruction, 30 cents; single lesson with instructions for half hour, 40 cents; course of six lessons, $2. Wheels could also be rented for road riding.
The Oneida Square Bicycle Rink was also used for ice skating and political rallies. During a presidential campaign in 1900, Teddy Roosevelt’s oratory rang in its precincts and Senator Chauncey M. Depew’s wit entertained a great audience gathered at the same meeting. The rink was sold in October 1901 at foreclosure.
Grand Old Theaters
Back in the Gay Nineties Uticans turned out in their finest to enjoy the leading Thespians of the day on the stage of the Utica Opera House. Broadway productions on their way to the metropolis and leading road attractions made Utica a regular stop to put on their shows at the opera house, generally at a top price of $1.50.
The Utica Opera House opened on October 16th, 1871 and was located on the northeast corner of Lafayette and Washington streets next to where the Hotel Utica is located today. Patrons ascended a wide stairway to reach the box-office and orchestra seats, one flight up. It was necessary to climb two flights to get into the balcony and three flights to go “rush” in the gallery, separated from the balcony by a railing.
A magnificent prismatic chandelier with its one hundred jets shed a softened light over the whole of the auditorium. Almost seventeen hundred elegantly upholstered chairs were provided for the spectators.
When Sam S. Shubert took over the lease of the old Opera House on Lafayette Street, a new and even greater era in theatrical entertainment began. During the summer of 1900 the Opera House was torn down until little but the side walls remained intact. Within these was built the Majestic Theater, a dream of splendor.
There were two entrances, one off Lafayette Street, leading to the ground floor and balcony, and another from Washington Street, leading to the gallery on the third level and to the gallerette on the fourth level. The gallerette was a unique feature of the house. It was on the fourth floor and immediately in front of the seats in the gallery. There was a single row of seats in the gallerette, seating 75 people and standing room for as many more.
From the main entrance on Lafayette Street three sets of double doors opened into a lobby floored with mosaic tile and wainscoted with Italian marble. The lobby continued upward through two floors and contained two large French block plate mirrors. On the second floor was a balcony looking down into the lobby. This was intended for use as a promenade for the balcony proper.
The balcony was 50 feet deep front to rear and extended across the building. It was finished in maroon and green, and had 425 seats. The ceiling, 57 feet high, was frescoed with figures typical of the dawn and of the histrionic art in bright colors. Stucco work enhanced these decorations, some of it representing figures in mythology. The gallery, which was one floor higher, could seat 500.
The boxes were twelve in number, six on each side and were entered from the first floor. No two boxes on a side were on the same level and this gave the occupants of each box the unobstructed view of the stage. Above the boxes a number of cupids were placed. The opera chairs were upholstered in Nile green tapestry.
There were fifteen complete sets of scenery, which could be raised or lowered from the rigging loft without the shifting which was a noticeable feature of the old Opera House. From the opening of the new theater, the employees were dressed in uniforms of green, with gold braid and plain gold buttons.
The Majestic furnished a great array of attractions, the greater part of the best contemporary theatrical offerings of the time.
When the Majestic Theater was built, the space over the stores on the northeast corner of Washington Street was fitted up as an auditorium, long known as “Assembly Hall.”
The entrance was from a flight of stairs from Washington Street. These led to the auditorium itself, underneath a balcony. Paul F. Kallies did the decorative work. A series of clusters of American beauty roses were painted on the ceiling in the center of the room, and an allegorical picture representing comedy and tragedy occupied the space over the proscenium arch and extended up the coved ceiling. The only exposed wall was on the Lafayette Street side, and light during the day was obtained from the number of large windows there. In this hall, Wilmer & Vincent began their long successful career as theatrical agents and proprietors.
Sidney Wilmer and Walter Vincent were vaudeville actors when the former came to visit his sister, Mrs. E. W. Wright, who resided in the Olbiston apartments early in 1900. During his visit, he received a proposition from Seymour D. Latcher, agent for Owens Brothers, owners of the Majestic Block, to take over the Assembly Hall and operate it as a vaudeville house. They took a lease at $2,000 rental per year and opened it on January 19, 1901 as “The Orpheum”, enjoying great initial success.
Wilmer & Vincent continued to operate the Orpheum until May 1, 1915, when it was taken over as a motion picture house by William P. Donlon. He was a native of Amsterdam, who came to Utica in 1907 at the age of 16; purchased the candy concession at the Majestic and in a few years was assistant manager of the Majestic. The Orpheum continued to enjoy a popular patronage until 1917. About five o'clock in the morning of March 20th, 1917, fire extensively damaged the building and it was not thereafter used as a theater. A second floor motion picture theater was no longer acceptable because of the danger of fire.
Utica has been uniquely blessed by magnanimous gifts and immeasurable benefits bestowed by the Proctor families upon the city in practically every phase of its development. Our park system is one of the most conspicuous of these legacies, given for the most part while the donors were living.
During the 1890s, the city was expanding in all directions. In spite of agitation to add a park system, the city fathers were reluctant to expend the funds necessary to acquire the land. It was then that public-spirited benefactors came forward to give Utica one of the most extensive public park systems of any city of its size in the country.
Thomas Redfield Proctor married Maria Williams, and his brother, Frederick Towne Proctor married Maria's sister Rachel. These two couples were active in making Utica a better place to enrich the lives of the people.
Starting at the east is the Frederick T. Proctor Park, extending from the former tracks of the West Shore Railroad to Rutger Street, maintained by the Proctor family until 1933 when Mrs. T. R. Proctor gave it, complete with the impressive entrance gates, to the city.
In April 1904, Thomas R. Proctor made his first purchase of lands on what has come to be known as the Parkway. He purchased one farm after another until the total acreage contained about 380 acres. He engaged Frederick Law Olmstead, the well known landscape architect, to lay out drives and paths, and plant trees. The Thomas R. Proctor Park, on Culver Avenue and along Welsh Bush Road, and Roscoe Conkling Park, given by T. R. Proctor in 1908, extends the full length of the Memorial Parkway from Valley View Road to Oneida Street, and includes the South Woods, the Zoo, the Municipal Valley View, Golf Course and the club house, part of which the Mohawk Valley Museum now occupies.
On the summit of the hill, there was erected a tall flagpole. Nearby a huge 20 ton boulder was placed upon which a bronze tablet dedicating the park in honor of Roscoe Conkling was attached. In July 1909, both Roscoe Conkling Park and Thomas R. Proctor Park were dedicated to use of the citizens.
We hope you enjoy the slides of historic photos and postcards ("hand colored" black and white photos that were popular in the early 20th century.)
During the 1890s, the city was expanding in all directions. In spite of agitation to add a park system, the city fathers were reluctant to expend the funds necessary to acquire the land. In the spring of 1899, Thomas R. Proctor threw open to public use sixty acres of the old Bagg's Hotel farm lying just westerly of the Masonic Home grounds. He did not give it outright to the city at that time, because it was not prepared to appropriate the money necessary for its maintenance.
On June 15, 1907, Thomas R. Proctor presented to the city Horatio Seymour Park, 14 acres, on the corner of Sunset avenue and what was then known as Pleasant street (now Burrstone Road); J. Thomas Spriggs Park, of slightly less than an acre, a point of land lying between Whitesboro and Erie street, at their junction. In the same year, Maria Proctor (wife of Thomas) decided that the plot of land on the southeast corner of Eagle and Genesee street and extending along Eagle street to Park avenue be made into a small park to beautify Genesee street. The land contained the old Palmer residence and was overgrown with weeds and grass. She purchased the old mansion; tore it down and put landscape gardeners to work to transform it into what is known as "Christmas Tree" park.
On February 3, 1908, deeds of these parks to the city were filed with the city and at the same time, Frederick T. Proctor and his wife Rachel, deeded the land on which St. Luke's Hospital originally stood on Columbia street, to be known as Truman K. Butler Park.
It was in April 1904, that Thomas R. Proctor made his first purchase of lands on what has come to be known as the Parkway. He purchased one farm after another until the total acreage contained about 380 acres. He engaged Frederick Law Olmstead, the well known Boston landscape architect, to lay out drives and paths, and plant trees. On the summit of the hill, there was erected a tall flagpole. Nearby a huge 20 ton boulder was placed upon which a bronze tablet dedicating the park in honor of Roscoe Conkling was attached. On the morning of June 23, 1907, a large gathering of prominent citizens met at the house of Mr. Proctor and were served with an elaborate luncheon. After the luncheon, the guests entered fourteen automobiles and were driven around the city to the various parks which Mr. Proctor was donating to the city. In July 1909, both Roscoe Conkling Park and Thomas R. Proctor Park were dedicated to use of the citizens. The total park system at this time comprised 515 acres.
In the same year, to give access to the new park, the city completed the construction of the short stretch of the Parkway from Genesee street to Elm street. In 1911, it was extended to Mohawk street and in June 1919 its extension from Mohawk street to Welsh Bush road was authorized by the council.
On the Parkway at the head of Elm street in December 1910 was placed the Swan Memorial Fountain, donated by the late Mrs. Joseph Swan. It was the creation of Frederick William MacMonnies, America's great sculptor. The base was a monolith, six by ten feet and surmounting the column was the figure of the god Pan — the Grecian divinity, who was considered the patron of flocks and shepherds, hunters and fishermen ("Saturday Globe", December 24, 1910). On July 9, 1921, the statue of Thomas R. Proctor, the gift of the school children of Utica, was unveiled in the park.
Among the many monuments along the Parkway, the "Hiker" monument at the intersection of Oneida street and the Parkway was erected in 1915, dedicated to the memory of the veterans of the Spanish-American War. The sculptor, Allen G. Newman, caught the spirit of the trooper in an inspiring manner, with soft hat slanted at a tilt, flannel shirt wide open at the throat and arms bare above the elbow. It is a dashing figure and a finished work of art. The huge boulder upon which it stands has a history of its own.
It was discovered near Trenton and a trucking company was engaged to haul it to the city. Early in January 1915, the trip began, but the big sled became stuck in the snow and was abandoned until the snow melted in the spring. The most difficult part of the journey was in getting the 17 ton load down the incline of Deerfield Hill for three miles to Deerfield corners. The trip was resumed with two teams hitched to the wagon and a third with block and tackle attached to trees. The task was completed however, in time for the dedication of the monument on July 5th, 1915.
Early Utica Parks
No map in the County Clerk’s office is so much consulted as that flied in 1811 by Charles C. Brodhead covering the property of the Bleecker family. There was set out an area of three and four-tenths acres as a public common or park, known as Chancellor Square and this included the original site of the Academy and Courthouse. The lots on the east and west ends originally fronted on the square itself and could only be approached through it. Eventually Bleecker Street wormed its way on the north side and Elizabeth on the south.
As the city grew, Chancellor Park became a sort of gateway between the business section to the northwest and the residential portion to the southeast. The residents enjoyed the cool shade of the trees for picnics and celebrations. To keep the rummaging hogs and ducks of the townspeople from invading its sacred precincts, the city fathers erected a wooden fence around the park. Streets were laid out on the east and west sides, and by ordinance of the Common Council of April 7, 1837, the street on the east side of the park between Bleecker and Elizabeth was named Kent Street and that on the west side Academy. Both Chancellor Park and Kent Street were named for the same person, James Kent, the distinguished jurist and chancellor of the State.
In June of 1845 workmen commenced tearing away the unsightly old fence around this beautiful piece of ground and rapidly replaced it with a new one. The interior of the Square also underwent many improvements. Tastefully planned walks, in all more than a mile in extent, were laid out and a number of new trees planted.
Steuben Square was laid out in 1827. It stood well out of town at the time and Charlotte Street, which terminates at its northern side, contained only a few residences. It was named for Baron Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian nobleman who fought in the Revolution. Our first Mayor, Joseph Kirkland, ordered a fence erected around it and laid out gravel walks. On July 13, 1832, the Common Council decreed that that part of Bridge Street (Park Avenue) extending across Steuben Square be discontinued and the Street altered to run on the northwesterly side; that it be enclosed with a fence and walks made around and diagonally and transversely across said square. On June 13, 1834, the name was changed from Steuben Square to Steuben Park. In 1841, William Begg was appointed park keeper; followed in 1857 by John B. Marchisi; and in 1866 by Bernard Malloy, a landscape gardener. Later the old picket fence was removed.
The third of the early parks was Johnson Park at the intersection of Square and West Streets. It was deeded to the city by Alexander B. Johnson on October 27th, 1849. The deed recites that, “A. B. Johnson has resided in the said Utica for the last forty-nine years and feels toward the inhabitants thereof much good will; that his parents resided therein and are there buried, and that his father, Bryan Johnson, as early as the year 1799 gave Utica its first commercial impulse by the purchase of country produce for the New York market, and by the sale of foreign merchandise on an enlarged scale and at low prices.”
When Charles W. Hutchinson became Mayor of Utica in 1875, he determined to add handsome fountains in Utica’s parks. The one at Steuben Park was purchased from J. L. Mott, of New York City. It was made of iron with the figures of zinc. It was 18 feet high, constructed in the Renaissance style, surmounted by a large and graceful figure of Canova’s Hebe, the goddess of youth, holding a pitcher in her right hand above her head from which she poured water into the bowl held in her left hand. The figure was semi-nude and very graceful and beautiful. Around the base were the figures of four boys in different attitudes of bathing, and two swans. Two of the boys were seated and in the act of undressing. Of the other two, one had his hands folded as if to dive into the water, while the second was taking off his last garment. The swans were on the east and west sides, and had their wings extended heads down, and bills open as if enraged.
But time took its toll on the fountain and in June 1907, she was removed and J. L. Mott constructed a new one. The basin was ten and one half feet in diameter and together with the statue was 12 feet high. The figure of a boy holding high in one hand an electric globe was selected and from the globe the electric radiance spread over the park. The jets of water came from the base of the statue of the boy and fell into an octagon basin.
The 1875 fountain placed in Chancellor Park was made of zinc, covered with bronze and represented Neptune riding in a shell chariot upon two dolphins. He grasped the traditional trident, which he pointed at the head of one of the dolphins. From the nostrils of the dolphins, two jets of water were thrown to a height of twenty-five or thirty feet, while from their mouths were jets fan shaped letting the water fall into the basin. On the back of the chariot were numberless small spray jets. The fountain was eight and one-half feet high and rested on a stone base about five feet square. The basin was fifty feet in diameter.
The founder was tall, thin, likeable Seward W. Baker, son of a well-to-do West Schuyler farmer. Baker got the idea for Summit Park in 1895, when he sold the idea to Trolley Company Executive John W. Boyle. Almost instantly, and while they were still building a roof over the pavilion, they got a dance orchestra playing.
Summit Park Station contained one gate in the form of turnstiles. As people came in on the trolleys, they stopped onto a platform constructed on the plan of the elevated railroad stations in New York City to afford the greatest convenience and efficiency for everyone. Those covered platforms then led into an octagonal ticket office in the center. Pleasure seekers entered the park by passing through the turnstiles which counted the crowds. On the return, the other end of the platform was used, thus relieving the congestion of "two-way traffic." Four or five feet wide paths led the crowds to all parts of Summit Park. One such went from the Station up to the main entrance of the pavilion.
The pavilion was the largest and most elaborate building in the park. It stood at the top of a hill and was made more conspicuous from all sides due to the fact that it was built four feet above the ground. At the top of the main flight of steps was the large dance floor ninety feet square.
Overlooking the huge floor was "a balcony where the families would sit while they watched their children try out the floor". There was also a good view of the park from this balcony.
On the same level, adjoining the dance floor, was an octagonal building, known as the promenade. This was a continuation of the walk which surrounded the dance floor in the center of the octagon was the Ada fountain which, for its day, was something special. It dispensed sarsaparilla or lemon sour to those who needed refreshment after dancing.
West of the pavilion was a natural bowl with three sides facing the open air theater. Benches and chairs were placed on the surrounding hills and more than one thousand people could watch the shows. In back of the audience on the south slope were the Pinnacle, the water tower, and the Observatory. The Observatory had a massive stone foundation, but after a few years the Observatory was declared unsafe and was not used any more.
At the opposite end of the park from the Observatory was the Grand Stand facing a quarter mile track and the Summit Park Station. The Grand Stand, seating about four hundred, was completely covered. The quarter mile track, containing a baseball diamond, was used only for a few "...school races and other athletic contests…” It apparently was not as useful as first imagined and was destroyed after a few years
On the west side of the park, directly in back of the Grand Stand and open air theater, is a sheer cliff dropping down more than one hundred twenty-five feet to the Oriskany Creek which formed a lake about fifty feet wide in back of an old state dam. A terraced stairway led to the boat house and dock. About twenty boats and a canoe were at the pier to be rented for twenty-five cents an hour. At one time provisions were made for swimming in the four feet of water shaded by overhanging willow trees.
Park benches, picnic tables, and the grayish colored park buildings were all shaded from the summer heat by the same trees that had once covered homes of Iroquois Indians living in the same area.
Other than the food and the boating the admission to the park was the only cost. For ten cents, what more could one ask? Despite the fact that dancing was free, bands were often brought up from New York City to entertain the crowds which were never noisy. People were quick to accept this chance to glide across the floor to the tunes of two-steps and waltzes. As dancing was never done on Sundays, these bands usually gave afternoon concerts.
Usual park attendance ran at one thousand
a night climbing to fifteen hundred on Saturdays and averaging
six or seven thousand
on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day. However,
all records of attendance were broken when former president Theodore
Roosevelt came to Summit Park to speak at a
Any drunkards coming on the trolleys were not permitted to enter the park and no such products were sold on the premises.
The last twelve or fifteen years brought a new type of entertainment to Summit Park. Concessions for amusement booths and rides were awarded to local people interested in the park.
Aden Cole and George Vanderzee owned and operated most of the rides. These included the roller coaster, whip, merry-go-round, and miniature railroad. The roller coaster, for those days, was a large, dangerous looking affair. It had several dips, the first being over one hundred feet deep and was built on the side hill between Summit Park Station and the pavilion.
Along the paths leading through the park were small shops including the shooting gallery, the penny arcade, a Japanese shop, run by a New Yorker who sold Japanese souvenirs and knickknacks, and a skee-ball alley. For a time the owner of the skee-ball alley also exhibited a showcase of snakes. A picture gallery, hot dog stand, doughnut machine, and popcorn vender offered people a place to spend their money.
Rounding out the entertainment fare were miniature airplanes on the order of those in today's parks, circus performances with tigers and elephants, and, of course, the boating on the Oriskany Creek. Fire works were held every Fourth of July. In later years, as autos increased business fell off. In 1926 the Park closed. And in 1934, while busily building the Deland, Fla. Library, Baker died. The Library is named after him.
It was called Utica Park, and trolley tracks on Bleecker Street hummed with activity summer evenings and weekends as thousands boarded trolleys headed for the park — located on the eastern end of Bleecker where Chicago Pneumatic later was built. The park opened in 1891 and became one of Central New York's most popular spots for the next 30 years.
It was the Utica and Mohawk Railroad Co.. which ran the city's trolley system, that bought land just east of Masonic Home and built Utica Park there as a way to encourage people to ride the trolleys. One could walk to the park or ride a horse and buggy there, but the easiest way was to take a trolley. One of the developments which speeded the growth and success of Utica Park, was the electric railway. The Bleecker Street electric cars connected the park to the heart of the city, running every seven-and-a-half minutes. The March 29, 1898 issue of the Utica stated: " The people of Utica and the four suburban towns lying immediately east are interested in the fact that they are soon to be connected by an electric road. In fact it is probable that this road will be extended to the fifth eastern town, or city, the coming summer, and will thus bring Little Falls, Herkimer, Mohawk, Ilion, Frankfort, and Utica together. Then, there is the road to the west which is to reach to the City of Rome, making about 45 miles of electric road along the Mohawk Valley with Utica as a center."
The attractions were varied and tempting. The park featured restaurants, a merry-go-round and roller-coaster, large flower gardens, a zoo, bowling alleys, rifle ranges, shuffle boards, a bicycle track, baseball diamond and pavilion for dancing and band concerts.
And, what did they have at the zoo? From a poster dated Aug. 8, 1892, we learn the zoological collection included monkeys, baboons, bears, anteaters, cockatoos, wildcats, macaws, storks, toucans, raccoons, badgers, peacocks, eagles, and others.
Just how widespread the popularity of Utica Park was, for instance, is illustrated by this clipping from a Schenectady newspaper of August 11, 1892: "Utica Park, three miles from the center of that city, has become in the three seasons of its existence one of the most popular resorts in Central New York. "
At the turn of the century, the Utica Racing Association operated a trotting track there. Park attendance began to drop in the 1920s as more and more people bought cars to take them to the Adirondacks, Sylvan Beach and other faraway recreation places. In 1925, Utica Park was renamed Forest Park. In the mid-1930s, it closed. In the 1940s, a small section reopened for clambakes and picnics, but by then the rides, gardens, zoo and athletic fields were gone.
The residents of Oneida County were a sporting breed well before the dawn of the 20th century. Sports were enjoyed soon after pioneers from New England pushed into the area more than 200 years ago and interest intensified in the days preceding the Civil War. Eventually, the county would turn out its share of great athletes and teams, from the 1886 International League baseball champions, to the 1947 Utica Blue Sox team whose core soon became the Philadelphia Whiz Kids, to the 1983 Blue Sox team that inspired a popular book by baseball journalist Roger Kahn.
Team sports did not really begin to develop until the middle of the 19th century. Before that, horse racing ... trotting, more than anything else, by most accounts ... was a major recreation. And the horses of those days were a tough breed, apparently. In 1860, Broker, a well-known Central New York trotter, was the favorite of local aficionados in a 10-mile race, the result of which is unknown. In 1857, Broker had lost a 100-mile race from Albany to Whitesboro to a New York City horse.
Hunting and fishing also were common pastimes for the early residents of Oneida County, and they remain so today. Even then, Oneida Lake was a favorite destination of anglers, although in colonial times the most desirable fish sought there were landlocked salmon. The lake later was dominated by northern pike and then by walleyes, which continue to be the favorite of most visitors, although many other species abound there. The county also was blessed with many fine trout streams ... the upper portions of the Mohawk River, Oriskany Creek, West Canada Creek, Fish Creek and the Black River are just a few ... although many of them suffered for decades because of dams, mills and sewage. In many ways, some of the creeks are in far better shape today than they were a century and more ago. Still, in the earliest days, the waters were known for trout. In 1789, Dr. Samuel Hopkins wrote that the Oriskany "contained plenty of trout." The fish still are there, and thousands of anglers avidly pursue them.
Eventually, team sports did become important in the county, as they did throughout the nation in the years surrounding the Civil War. The "Star of the West" cricket club, founded by English, Welsh and Scottish immigrants in Utica in 1845, probably was the county's first organized sports club. Games were played off Columbia Street between Cornelia and State streets in downtown Utica, later, on Grove Place and then at Utica Park, where the Masonic Home is now.
Newcomers from Great Britain also brought curling to the area when they arrived to work in the Mohawk Valley's burgeoning textile industry at mid-century. They began playing on a pond in Clark Mills in 1854, and the Utica Curling Club was founded in 1868, when Benjamin Allen laid out two rinks in the ravine of Ballou's Creek on Rutger Street. The club moved to Francis Street in 1915 and then to Clark Mills Road in Whitestown in 1997, after the downtown building burned.
Golf - Golf has been extremely popular for more than a century in Oneida County, and the Utica-Rome area has a great many courses, one of the highest per capita rates in the country. The Sadaquada Golf Club and the Yahnundasis Country Club were founded in the 1890s, and are among the oldest golf clubs in the nation.
The area has produced many standout golfers, including 1998 touring pros Wayne Levi and Moira Dunn. Levi was the PGA's Player of the Year in 1991, and Dunn, in her fourth season on the LPGA Tour, recently had her best finish ever with a fourth-place tie in the Rochester International. It was the late Ed Furgol, however, who made the biggest single splash, winning the 1954 U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.
Furgol, who came out of the great golf tradition at Twin Ponds Country Club in New York Mills, enjoyed a productive professional career, winning five times on the PGA Tour, finishing second six times and being named to the 1957 Ryder Cup team, all despite a boyhood injury that caused his left arm to be shortened and crooked.
Olympians - Oneida County also has been represented in the Olympics from time to time since the modern games were inaugurated in 1896, most recently by Erin Hamlin who won the gold medal in the women’s singles event at the 2009 FIL World Luge Championships in Lake Placid, becoming the first U.S. woman to ever medal at the Luge World Championships. Erin was born in New Hartford and resides in Remsen.
Former Utica Free Academy athlete Irving K. Baxter won the high jump and pole vault in the 1900 Paris Olympics and finished second in three other events. Speed skater Val Bialas was an early star of the Winter Olympics ... ice skating became popular in the county before the turn of the century, and Oneida County also was the home of another great skater, former world record holder Patty Sheehan.
Bicycling - Bicycling is a sport that rose to prominence in the 1890s, part of a national craze resulting from the invention of the "safety" bicycle, which made the sport available to just about anyone. Many important races were held in the area, which developed some outstanding athletes, including Emil Georg. Georg's daughter, Ruth, a longtime Utica educator, preserved his glittering collection of silver trophies, gold watches and other awards for his many victories in the early days of the century.
Football & Basketball - Football and basketball have been played and followed religiously by Oneida County residents for more than a century. A signature football event occurred when the fabled Carlisle Indians played Hamilton College at Utica Parkin 1899. There were many outstanding basketball teams through the decades at the high school, college and professional levels, including two versions of the Utica Olympics, in the New York State League, during the 1940s and the Continental Basketball Association in the 1980s.
Hockey has been a local passion since A.I. Prettyman brought the game to Hamilton College around World War I. The Clinton Hockey Club played its first game New Year's Day, 1928, marking the birth of a tradition that led to the Clinton Comets, the scourge of the Eastern Hockey League of the 1960s. The game's fortunes have known many ups and downs since ... one of the ups being the 1982 Atlantic Coast Hockey League championship the Mohawk Valley Stars won under late coach Bill Horton.
Baseball - Baseball was a focal point of Oneida County sports scene for more than a century. From Little League, Babe Ruth League, high school, American Legion and college teams, through the amateur teams that nearly every village and town once supported, and to professional teams like the Rome Colonels and Utica Braves and Utica Blue Sox, it has remained a primary focus of sports interest.
Oneida County has turned out a large number major league players, starting with Warren "Juice" Latham in the 1870s and Mike Griffin in the 1880s to present big leaguers Mark Lemke, Archi Cianfrocco and Chris Jones. Andy Van Slyke of New Hartford recently retired after a long and solid career, and Dave Cash, who starred for the Pirates, Phillies and Expos into the 1980s, now is a coach with the Rochester Red Wings.
The area's baseball history goes back to at least 1860, when the Utica Baseball Club was founded. There also was a baseball club in Whitesboro, and the teams met in June of that year, with Utica winning 39-8 in the county's first game for which there is a record. Professional baseball made its debut in 1878, when the Crickets of the New York State League moved to Utica from Binghamton. Pro ball moved in and out of the area many times over the years, with teams in Utica and Rome. The first championship was won by the Utica Pent-Ups. The origin of the name is lost but local baseball historian Scott Fiesthumel believes it referred to the emotions of players or fans, or the fact that Utica was home to a large insane asylum ... who won the International League title in 1886. During that season, hundreds of fans would take the train to Syracuse to see their heroes play their arch-rivals, and July 4 they shuttled between the cities for a morning-afternoon doubleheader. A crowd of about 10,000 saw the teams play at Star Park in Syracuse, watching Utica win 10-2 after the Stars won the morning game 5-4.
Champions or not, the Pent-Ups moved to Wilkes-Barre in the middle of the next season, and there were many moves and franchise shifts in succeeding years. There were no more pennants, however, until the Utica Blue Sox won the Eastern League crown in 1945 and again in 1947. Manager Eddie Sawyer, future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn and many of the rest those who would become the Philadelphia Phillies Whiz Kids of 1950 who won the Eastern League crown. The Blue Sox were sold down the valley to become the Schenectady Blue Jays in 1951, and there was no more professional baseball in Oneida County until the Utica Blue Jays joined the New York-Penn League in 1977. The team caused a stir that season with future big leaguers, Jesse Barfield and Boomer Wells, in the lineup, along with fan favorite Rocket Wheeler. Renamed the Blue Sox in 1981, the team won the NY-P championship in 1983, the "Good Enough to Dream" season that resulted in the book of that name by Roger Kahn, the team's president and noted author of "The Boys of Summer."
Boilermaker -No other Mohawk Valley athletic event comes close to the size of the Boilermaker. The Boilermaker is also Oneida County's big spectator event. Thousands of people line the racecourse, and the athletes run through a tunnel of cheering spectators. The Boilermaker is a race, yes, but it is much more than that. It has a million-dollar impact on Oneida County's economy. The Boilermaker brings former county residents home for family reunions, which are tied to the race. And the Boilermaker has improved the physical and mental well being of untold numbers of participants.
Because of the Boilermaker, the Hall of Fame, America's Greatest Heart Run & Walk, the Falling Leaves Road Race and other running events, Utica is being referred to as the "running capital" of New York State. The Boilermaker was started in 1977, with $500 donated by race director Earle Reed's company then called Utica Radiator. Some 800 runners signed up for that first Boilermaker. In 2010 over 13,000 individuals registered.
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